Come Corona Come! Covid Will Never Go Away with Congestion in City at This Rate?
Mangaluru: Have you seen the crowd of people shopping and traffic moving around for no reason? The Lockdown has turned into Gridlock! City Streets are choked with Traffic even during Lockdown, which was relaxed a bit. Who said Mangaluru is Under Lockdown by looking at the huge masses of people and traffic in the City- and many are simply flouting the Covid-19 guidelines. In spite of the spike in Covid-19 cases in Dakshina Kannada/Mangaluru, for which the government and district administration have enforced lockdown, unfortunately, the City streets have already started flooding with traffic. Citizens took to Twitter highlighting the issue, giving us a glimpse of the situation on the ground. People make a beeline right from 7 am until 2 pm at supermarkets, medical shops, fruit and vegetable shops, milk booths etc.
Hurried efforts to stock essentials saw quite a few traffic jams and long queues in the city for a couple of days, and with weekend curfew people were on streets until 2 pm and many beyond that time hurrying back home with bags full of essentials. With all shops allowed to do business between 7 am till 2 pm, saw huge crowds on streets and at the shops, and many without masks and not following social distance.
Chicken, mutton, and beef shops too saw long queues before the curfew time. Even though the City traffic Police personnel were well equipped to instantly enforce the lockdown, with barricades set up on main roads, quite a few motorists were seen violating the rules by travelling through inner roads or where cops presence is absent. With many people still on the roads, the barricades led to some traffic jams as people tried to rush back home by 2 pm. The seven-hour relaxation period appears to have become counter-productive to the very objective of the lockdown — to arrest the spread and bring down the incidence of Covid-19. With several vehicles hitting the road, traffic almost came to a standstill on streets near Kankanady market, Kadri Market, Jyothi-Balmatta road, Bendoorwell-Kankanady road, Highway between Nanthur and KPT, and other points.
And there were hardly any cops on the streets to control the huge traffic. Every day from 7 am till 2 pm since Tuesday, the city burst into an economic and social activity, compressing and capturing the entire day’s activity in a short span of seven hours. While traders and vendors are happy that economic activity is running uninterrupted in those seven hours, experts are worried about undisciplined crowds spilling out onto the roads without wearing masks or maintaining social distance, and jammed traffic. Certain bazaar areas, including Market Road, were brimming with people in the 7-hour phase, so much so that the traffic in these areas took about an hour to clear after the lockdown hours come into force at 2 pm.
With a large number of street hawkers and vendors who do business on the roads, people throng to make purchases. Police say that they have been effectively enforcing Covid-19 appropriate behaviour during the 7-hour window, but the situation on the ground shows a different picture. They say that the first lockdown in 2020 was completely different from the situation now. Nonetheless, they are trying to inculcate discipline in crowds. “Anyone who violates rules is booked and action taken. After the relaxation period is completed, all officers are distributed to checkpoints and patrolling.” said police commissioner N Shashi Kumar.
A few police officials recall that the lockdown in 2020 when except for establishments selling groceries, vegetables and a few other essentials, others used to be closed and people were allowed to travel only within a 2km radius for any purchase. “The police department which was at the forefront in enforcing the lockdown, did it very strictly, But not anymore,” said one police constable posted at Nanthur junction check post. Few citizens have expressed that allowing all commercial activity between 7 am-2 pm hours visibly increases chances of overcrowding and some restrictions need to be in place to spread out the crowds.“The district admin or MCC must make these rules.
The concerned officials and peoples’ representatives should have thought twice before they decided to open all shops for business between 7 am -2 pm. It would have been nice if the weekdays were equally divided between shops selling essentials to operate on certain days of the week, and other non-essential shops on the rest of the days. Allowing all shops to open on all days, has created a huge nuisance and gridlock. It is terrible out there, looks like Coronavirus has disappeared, and people don’t have to worry about the virus. Few others said that uninterrupted travel in the seven-hour open period must be discouraged and travel for essential purposes alone must be allowed as it was in 2020.
“There are a couple of super-spreading areas we noticed in both waves —Supermarkets and restaurants. Both these are crowd pullers and bring in public from across the city. Some restrictions must be there like travel only within 5 km radius etc to ensure unnecessary vehicular traffic is not attracted. Such initiatives are crucial to containing the surge. One more important step is to involve citizens in all containment activities. Ward-level information dissemination is crucial to make the best use of such restrictions,” said a college professor.
In order to ease the crowds at shopping places and also to ease heavy traffic on streets, we need to Segregate economic activity into essential and non-essential and designate different times for both. Allow essential establishments to operate all day or in staggered timings in the morning, followed by non-essential ones in mid-day. Extend the relaxation period up to 8 hours for alternate days to spread the crowds coming in. Deploy volunteers apart from police — roping in NGO, NSS, NCC volunteers for pandemic management. A relaxation of two more hours will put both vendors and customers at less risk as crowding won’t happen and also traffic chaos.
Now, the larger question is whether we can make this liveable Mangaluru the ‘new normal, and if this will become permanent. Yes, the new normal will remain as long as COVID is around us. However, it can become permanent only if lessons are learnt from this pandemic and specific interventions introduced. We need to reduce the need to travel: This can include interventions like work-from-home and study-from-home on some days, staggered and flexible work hours, more online shopping and home-delivery options, etc. Reduce travel distances. It will be a pity if we don’t learn our lessons even from a pandemic. It is also important to understand that there is no silver bullet.